The path to become a seasoned therapist includes several milestones of accomplishment. The first step is often a two-year graduate program to learn theory, treatment and intervention practices, ethics, cultural competency, and special topic classes geared towards therapist’s individual interests. During coursework there is often a first internship, followed by a second year practicum and often a Master’s thesis.
Following the formal education process therapists gain supervised hours for usually two years. During this period therapists see clients under close supervision by an approved supervisor. Finally, after the completion of the state’s required supervised hours and a state test, full licensure is obtained.
Each step is crucial to the development of a well-rounded therapist. Interns and practicum students are still primarily focused on the therapeutic orientations learned in their program and are starting to acquire some of their first hands-on clinical experience. This is where all good therapists start their careers.
The creativity and eagerness that manifests during this period of one's career building can be truly inspiring. And the frustration and impatience of having to collect hours only teaches pacing and humility in the face of obstacles and transition. Here, budding therapists feel many of the feelings they will help their clients wrestle with.
Once graduation is completed, therapists are responsible for meeting the requirements of their licensing board, as well as State and Federal statutes. These obligations define many things including documentation procedures, ethical guidelines, insurance and tax responsibilities, and full licensing requirements. While agency work does not usually pay as well as private practice (you will quickly find private practice has its own set of headaches), it offers invaluable experience on regulatory, licensing, ethical, and business practices of the industry.
Whether you work for a non-profit, for profit, small private practice, treatment center, government, school system, hospital, or church, the experience will yield substantial amounts of information that will empower you to build your personal mental health career.
For example, therapists will:
Can a therapist go into private practice immediately once licensed? Sure, but you will miss out on the valuable experience that is definitely worth investing a year or two of your early post-license career.
While working for an agency, you can accumulate supervised hours (often for free), focus on early post-graduate clinician development, all the while you plan and begin building a private practice plan that is well-thought-out and primed for success.
What if I am ready to start a private practice?
Here are some practical tips to help you build confidence in opening an individual private practice.
More questions? Check out the NYC state licensing board's website: http://www.op.nysed.gov/prof/mhp/mftbroch.htm
Want to get connected? Check out NYAMFT where you can meet with other MFTs.